Return to Contents
Fantasticoe 2001 -  10th Anniversary Issue

 
 

By My Art

Virginia Florang

When did I decide to do it? The winter I was ten I suppose. That year started me on the path that lead to my leaving everything I'd known. I actually ended up staying with the cook and her children-an unheard of leap, princesses are supposed to have a multitude of nursemaids. Well I didn't. My father was wintering somewhere else, it hadn't been important to me where. Mother was ill with a contagious fever, she was almost constantly bedridden and sickly but not usually that ill. Some servants were paid well to stay-about half of them caught ill and died. My brothers were packed off to stay with my father's eldest son at the lodge where he stayed almost continually. My mother's maid for lack of instructions had sent me home with the cook, of all the stupid decisions. She was hired for her manner and loyalty not intelligence or creativity.

Too be sure, I was prim and proper enough at the start. I may not have had scads of nursemaids, servants or tutors that would stay in face of the illness, but that wasn't to say I never had any of the above, my parents didn't totally neglect my upbringing. I knew my place, I was a lady not a drudge, at least to start with.. The cook and her family however weren't so mindful, no idle hands, no slackers. I had to pack up the fine clothes I brought with me and wear her children's cast offs. I got to help clean and cook, and got teased for knowing nothing of either. Learning to peel potatoes-that was an experience I still have a few scars to prove it. In had to help tend the animals out in the cold with the others. I thought my feet were going to freeze right off the first day. I felt very sorry for myself the first couple days.

It wasn't all bad to my surprise. I also learned about impromptu games of tag and snowball fights and how to build snow forts when the work was done. The kids were of the opinion if I was to be included in the work I should get to play too. Not all kids are so equal minded. They could have left me sitting alone by myself to sulk, but they didn't. And their Gran, she was wonderful, she told the best fairy stories. We always got a tale before bed. Usually one of the girls was trying to teach me to sew while Gran was telling us stories. I never did learn to sew well. One of my tutors had attempted to teach me embroidery once, and given up in frustration. Well, I hadn't improved. After a couple weeks I was having a great time. I still hated the work; especially washing dishes, I always hated doing dishes and I still do.

I was dragged back to my proper place that spring, not before Gran had filled my head with tales and the seeds of more than tales. I kept running off with the cook's kids all summer and the next fall. If I wanted playmates they had be finished with their chores; so I was still working which I shouldn't have been doing. Oh if mother knew she would have a fit. The kids and I, we'd finish their work, go running to the stream to catch frogs or something, and then run back to Gran for tales. It was one of the best summers I ever had.

That fall Gran started asking me to visit her before helping the kids. Gran was a witch. I'd known that for sometime, she wasn't able to cure the fever; she said her power didn't really run to healing, but I'd seen her in the garden. I'd seen her plant a cherry pit one spring morning and pulled pale pink blossoms from the new cherry tree that after noon. The cook's house was miraculously free from vermin. That summer there was a dry spell, I watched her fill her stone bowl with water and place a sliver in the bottom. I didn't hear the words but I saw her stir the water. It stormed that evening. She wanted an apprentice. Her own grandchildren weren't suitable, but I was. The first thing she ever taught me was reading palms. The second thing was pyrotechnics, fire starting, so much easier than using a tinder.

Why not her grandchildren? I did ask. She just snorted, "Those great thumping lads? Good hearts, good lads, but got no knack for magic. Their Da he can make a charm or two, but the boys-nah snot in 'em. Jus' wait a year or two till they start thinkin'-never you mind. 'Sides what they gonna do but get themselves in trouble. Don't never think ahead, none. An' they don' need it. Little Dorrie, silly little thing, took that poor scrap offa street...skin and bone. My boy, he's gotta good heart too. She ain't got a brain in her little skull. The boys gonna have to look affer her. Nah- not her. You ain't so stupid. Spoild silly though. Cass, yeah, we foun' her an' took her in too. She's too ole, an she don' want none of it."

Things continued that way even after everyone returned. I kept evading my tutors and nursemaids and running off with the servant kids. Mother was still sickly, and father was usually at the emperor's court, and they just never took the time to put me in my place. My brothers pretty much ignored me, which I thought was fine. I ended up spending more and more time with Gran. The girls had got me to where my sewing was passable so I did there mending while Gran taught me the rules of the magic and all the secrets she knew. I absorbed it all passively certain I would never truly need any of it. I think my lack of drive worried Gran. I was curious, it was fun and I did learn, but with a lazy attitude towards the studies. And so it went for a few years

The trouble started when my eldest brother got married. He decided to bring his fine lady wife home. That would have been well enough, but when she arrived and realized Mother wasn't looking after the household she decided as a dutiful daughter-in-law she would take up the responsibilities. In case you hadn't guessed that included making me into a proper little lady again, now that I had been thoroughly made over as a peasant tomboy. She had little sisters at home, she looked after them, but I wasn't them. Her task was made more difficult by the fact that I wasn't cooperating and everybody else had given up trying. It wasn't that Nadia was cruel or mean spirited. She meant well. I'm sure I drove her near mad; half the time I was running around barefoot in homespun. Nadia was very very proper, always impeccable in brocade and pearls, her chestnut braids perfectly arranged and hair curled. I knew she was trying to do what she thought was right, I did go along with her some of the time. She followed me around alternating between lecturing and whining. I did still run off a great deal, but she made it very difficult for me to get away and to stay away long. I wouldn't have gotten anytime away, but she didn't know exactly where I went. The benefit of playing with the servants kids; they would serve Nadia but they were liked me. I had that loyalty thing going for me.

That set the pattern for the next year, me running-Nadia chasing. It wasn't that she disliked me, she just didn't understand why I didn't want to sit at her feet and learn embroidery like a good little girl. Father was happy enough when he was home to have somebody looking after things.

Nadia was civilizing my brothers as well. Father was very impressed when he was home, and my eldest brother puffed up like a strutting rooster; he was quite proud of how much Nadia had accomplished. She smiled softly and said she was glad she could be of use in her new home. Father made some comment about delivering a grandson and heir and then she wold be perfect. Then he slapped by brothers shoulders and the walked away laughing.

The next year when a border dispute erupted, Nadia was the only one who opened her mouth in my behalf. Father and the neighboring King came up with the age old approved solution. The border would go smack through the middle of the disputed area and I was going to get to marry King's son. Oh Nadia spoke up saying I was too young, but that was all she said before she started on my trousseau. She said I had no choice, go and try to make the best of it. I ran straight to Gran, for comfort. I didn't want to get married. I didn't want to get married to some prince I'd never met in my life, who I'd never seen. I didn't want to find out what had happened to his three previous wives either: nobody seemed to know(I took that as a bad sign). He wasn't much more than 10 years older than me, but still...

"Fightin' straight out won't do you no good," Gran was packing a bundle for me too, her version of a wedding present."Don'tcha just run straight out neither, they'll chase y'down and drag y'off and watch so close you'll never have another chance. I done tried to teach y'what I could. Use your brains girl, when you have an opportunity take it and run with it. There ain't nobody knows I taught ya anything but mendin' when you take your shot make it count."

"But I don't want to go." I wailed, "Isn't there anything you can do?"

"Taught you," she snapped."Can't stop the goin'. Too many against to stop the goin'. So go-and I'll be waitin' for y'comin' back. Be careful no one see's ya come back."

She handed me her bundle wrapped in a rough blanket. She gave me a soft sad look, and sighed, "Never could teach you to sew a straight seam...."

So I was packed up and set off with a couple of guards and the youngest of Nadia's serving girls. Not much of a retinue, but enough to make running away difficult. The first night I opened Gran's bundle. For my wedding she gave me a scrying bowl, a book of spells, and a collection of every spell component I could use and a few I couldn't. I sat flipping through the book of incanations listening to the lady's maid gush about how lucky I was. She was a pretty little thing, in the classical way, like in tales, blond haired blue eyed. She had a perfect little oval face and took as much time with her hair and dress as Nadia did. I think her real name was Mellisande. She was neat and proper surprisingly well turned out in her castoffs. Annoying thing. She was dead set on getting my hair to behave, if she succeeded she would be the first person in all history to manage to style my hair. Curls just don't do much besides curl. She seemed to think persistence was the key. She was actually a year or two older than me, but we were about the same size and build. Coloring was nothing like though.

Mellisande chattered on the next day too about how wonderful it all was. I finally got the idea that she was trying to ingratiate herself to me, I think she was aiming to stay my maid, but she'd given me an idea. The next evening I decided to make the offer.

"You want to do what?" she sat down in shock, her mouth hanging open.

"You heard me," I folded my arms."You're the one that's always going on about how wonderful this all is, so how would you like to be a princess?"

"It would never work!" Her white hands flapped nervously in front of her. No calluses for her, where as I...

"Of course it would. That king and his idiot son have never seen me, come to that most nobility hasn't. You've been brought up around proper ladies, you know your manners. You could carry off as a lady. You're pretty enough, nobody will ever know the difference,"I saw she shine in her eyes. She wanted it. Her fairy tale: to marry a prince, to be a great lady with her own servants. She could have it. "Just think one day you'd even be queen."

"But the guards would tell," she protested. "And your family. . ."

"If you'll go along, I'll make sure te guards don't finish the journey with us. My family all said they weren't coming for the wedding, my father swore he'd never set foot in that land. If they aren't coming for this, they'll never come. It's work. Nobody will know." I watched, hoping , hoping , hoping...

"You aren't going to kill them, the guards?"

"Good god no."

"Alright then, what do I have to do?" She sat perfectly still with a look of apprehension on her face like she expected to be struck by a bolt of lightening at any second.

I grinned and sat down beside her, and patted her knee."Here's what we do...."

Three days later we rode into the capital. The guards had gotten mysteriously ill near the border two days ago. You should never let a witchling near your water when she doesn't want you around. Mellisande in my clothes, me in hers. She got all my things, except Gran's bundle. She didn't like the binding I'd laid on her, but I had to be sure she wouldn't turn on me and have me executed. So now the serving girl was Princess Elainia and I was the servant girl. I'd decided to name myself Lily. Mellisande was supposed to send me back on my own as an unsatisfactory maid.(Which was true enough.) She was playing the part well. She looked a proper princess and behaved one too. I heard her telling them to send me back as she was swept off to her fiancee.

It didn't happen.

It was decided I couldn't be sent back alone. I would have to stay and be useful till there was an opportunity to send someone back with me. I wasn't a very useful servant. I think the assumption was that I was mostly ornamental. That's how I got set about herding geese. It was easy, and didn't require much skill. I actually liked it to tell the truth. I liked being out of doors. I took Gran's book with me to study. The field yielded a good supply of herbs. I was actually quite happy for the most part.

There was that dunderheaded peasant, Collin, who I was supposed to be working with. He was stupid, mean spirited, and always rubbed me the wrong way. I heard the story they've told, he most certainly did not want a strand of my hair. The first day when he made a grab for me, I managed to get a lucky kick in and topple him down the hill. He knocked himself out on a rock. He left me a lone for a while after that. When he started getting that look again I drugged his lunch. Temporary fix--he was only sick for a few days. He was still woozy when he came back, when he fell asleep after lunch I cut off a lock of hair and tucked it into the pocket of my apron.

He didn't leave me alone this time. He kept poking and prodding and pinching. Finally one day when he pushed it too far again I didn't think and just reacted. I froze him right in his spot. When I realized what I'd done I took the flock and ran back. It was a mistake on two counts; one: I'd give away I was more than the obvious, two: this wasn't home. In this country witches were not at all welcome, they were devout and their religion forbade all other religions as well the practice of witchcraft. I should have run for home and taken my chances.

So I was punished. Collin enjoyed that. He helped.

I was locked away.

I had managed to keep my bundle and the clothes I'd been wearing. I'm not sure how, I think I bribed someone and hid them.

The holy men visited and tried to tell me I was evil. They told me I could repent and be purified. Once I was purified I would be forgiven and accepted. I didn't think I wanted to find out what purification entailed. I told them I just wanted to go home. It was true enough. I even missed my brothers, I never thought I would miss them, but I did. I wanted to see Gran and the rest of the Cook's family. I missed their voices, the laughter, the cook's boys pulling my braids to tease me. I wanted anything familiar. Homesickness was hitting full force while I was locked in that cellar, too hurt to do anything but think.

I was still recovering from the beatings when Nadia and my brother arrived and it all fell apart. I hadn't known they were coming. I should have thought of it, but I hadn't. Stupid, stupid,stupid...I hadn't thought she would be able to talk my brother into the journey. I really thought they wouldn't show. My brother had been in an indulgent mood, a soothsayer had just said within a year his wife would give him a son. He was thrilled whenever he spoke of it. Nadia said nothing.

I really thought no one would show, but they did and the illusion was shattered. I wasn't ready to give up but I couldn't think what to do. I should have know it wouldn't be that easy. I should have known somebody would come to attend the wedding. I should have known better. I should have thought it out more. Now I was in trouble, Mellisande was in trouble, and I was stuck with my originial problem.

I actually missed most of the fireworks. Nadia and my brother walked in and blew the story sky high. My brother was furious. The king and the prince were outraged. Nadia didn't know what to do. The treaty very nearly fell apart, but they all had to save face. They couldn't go to war over a case of mistaken identity. I'm sure my father was irate that I'd endangered his kingdom. I didn't want to save his kingdom. I didn't want to be a queen. I didn't want to be shut up in fancy walls. I didn't know what exactly I did want to do, but I knew getting married wasn't it. I never did actually meet my in laws to be. I got the distinct impression that they were not happy about finding I was a witchling. And I was really starting to worry about those other wives now, the ones that disappeared.

Nadia kept trying to tell me it would all be fine. As always, she tried to get me to go along with what was planned for me. Just go along with it nice and quiet, and it will all work out for the best. I was nice enough to point out that if my brother threw her off the tower one day no one would say a word. It would be like she never existed. That was a pretty rotten thing to say, but it was true, and she knew it.

The families managed to hush up that I was the same witchling goose girl that the other servants had beaten half to death, but I couldn't be seen until I was healed which bought me a little time. Mellisande was locked in a dungeon, never to see the sun again. We were both in about the same position.

I was running out of time fast, and I only had one idea. I needed help. The only one I could turn to was Nadia, and she had no reason to help me.

"Nadia, please" I was propped up in bed. I could be up and about but nobody would let me. I'd thrown all the servants out. I'd feigned hysterics, insisting that I would talk only to Nadia. It worked; they brought her, and everyone left. I think all the flying ornaments, and what ever else I could lay hands on and throw, helped convince them.

"You nearly started a war, and you want me to help you with a repeat performance!?"

"Nadia listen,"I swung up to sit on the side of the bed."I won't make a proper queen. It's not in me. You know I won't. I can't make nice and be a good little girl. I'll just run away again the next time I have a chance. If you help me I can make it work out so we'll all be happy. All you have to do is help me with some people switching."

"You're going to get us killed. You're going to start a war."

"Nadia, if you don't help me,I'll run again and it will start anyway. I know you don't understand, but believe me, this can work. After tonight, just don't let my brother talk to me too much. It's the best way." I was begging, I did not have any shame about this.

Nadia agreed grudgingly. At the time I didn't wonder but I have since whether or not she was really happy with her marriage and her life. She spent most of her time trying to tell me to behave properly and do as I was told. Perhaps that was because she'd heard the same speeches all her life. I wonder if she wanted to marry. I think if she was really happy with her life, she probably wouldn't have helped. Maybe she felt as trapped as I did. I shouldn't have said that about my brother. He wouldn't have really done that. She didn't need to be frightened on top of everything.

All she said was,"What do I need to do?"

"I need to switch with someone again." I did, as before, have an idea."I need to get to the girl I switched with originally, I've already spelled her so she can't act against me. I'll add you in to so she can't hurt you. Then I'll just pretend to be one of your serving girls."

Nadia looked surprised, but said nothing about the spell."Couldn't you just spell the prince into being nice, and go along with the marriage. That would be safer."
 

I gaped. "I'd get caught and then probably be burned at the stake. I'm going to spell him so he can't hurt Mellisande, but he's still going to want what's expected. If I messed around with his head to get my way someone would notice. It wouldn't take them long to guess who. Mellisande is proper and docile enough. She can be what they want. I can't."

Nadia sighed,"How will you hide the missing prisoner? Replacing her with another would be difficult. Agreeing to pose as queen is one thing, agreeing to spend one's life imprisoned is not so attractive."

"Give me that bundle--and the apron over there."

Nadia gave it to me with a puzzled look, but handed me the dingey apron I'd worn as a servant and Gran's bundle. I felt in the apron's pocket. Still there, oh perfect. I pulled myself up to a sitting position. The candle near the bed would do for wax. Gran always had a problem with finding wax; she said tallow just didn't work so well. "Very simple, Nadia. I won't ask for a volunteer. I'll make somebody do it, I know just the person, too"

"How will you... never mind. The same way you insured the servant's loyalty?"

"Close, but not the same," I nodded. "Some people should think twice before getting a witch in trouble."

Nadia looked a little green.

That night she walked into the faux Elainia's cell with two veiled ladies in waiting.

I had no time to waste. I dropped to my knees in the filth of the cell and I unrolled my small bundle. It had to be done quickly.

Nadia had the key to the prisoner's shackles. She let the poor girl go. Mellisande was terrified, but she didn't run away.

I still needed her and she still wanted my place. Nadia stood watch at the door. I had prepared the components with all the dedication Gran could have wished.. I crumbled them carefully into the bowl and filled it with water. I spoke the words so quietly they were barely audible, but with more focus than I had ever used before.

I had one extra ingredient for the servant. It had to be permanent for her. She wiped the unguent over her face as I instructed, then washed her face with the water and let it run back into her hair.

I watched as her blonde hair turned black, blue eyes bleed to violet. That perfect little oval shifted into a heart shape. She shook her head.

I washed my face and waited a second or two. I picked up the end of a curl, nondescript ash brown. Good. The reflected face was equally nondescript, brown eyed, round faced, button nosed. Not cute, not ugly, not distinctive at all.

I wrapped my hand around the wax poppet, curling my fingers around the little body. The second lady in waiting staggered forward and fell to her knees beside us.(Grace was more than I could manage with my spell, only control.) The other washed her face, and she took on the perfect pert features that had been the false princess's.

We all changed clothes.

We left the second lady in waiting in the prisoners clothes, shackled.

Nadia and I spread the story to all who would listen. The servant was a mad sorceress it was she, not the cast away princess, who had cast the spell on the gooseherd in hopes of getting the true princess killed. The true princess was enspelled herself, and the spell had just started unraveling the night of the hysterics as the sorceress had lost her mind. Indeed the false princess in the dungeon screamed and railed and tore at her face. She wailed that she was bewitched, she wasn't who she appeared to be. She was most insistent that she was another victim, getting more hysterical and incoherent as time went on. The physicians and holy men considered her beyond saving, but they would try.

I posed as a lady in waiting till after the wedding. With "Elainia" safely married, her brother thought it appropriate to leave. His sister was calm, sweet, the picture of a lady. The king was thrilled his new daughter in law was apparently recovered from her ordeal and turned out so well once all the evil was cleared away. And that she wasn't really a witch, just bespelled by one.

Nadia spoke to me a little, but she seemed uncomfortable. She never said anything about the switch. I caught her staring wistfully at me once or twice. I don't know if she was simply spooked by the magic involved, or wishing she'd been able to leave too.

As we left the capital after the wedding my thoughts turned to home. I would see Gran. I still didn't know what I wanted to be, but I knew what I didn't want to be and that was a start. I would find something. I could mend passably, even if it wasn't perfectly straight. I could make my way at home as a witch, selling charms. I'd find my own place in the world. I'd grow my own garden; maybe even herd geese. I didn't have to get married now or ever. I could choose my own way. That was more than so many could do.

I felt a sudden flash of heat in my pocket.

No one was watching me grope in the pocket of my plain gown as trudged along behind the other servants. Nobody saw me pull a melted piece of wax from my pocket. It used to have arms and legs. Now it was a melted blob, the ends of the lock of hair sticking out in clumps. I hadn't used the poppet since the night we switched places. I was responsible in part, but I hadn't made the prisoner commit suicide. I knew that was what happened. I wasn't sure how, but I knew. I hadn't felt at all sorry about putting the poppet's target there. I wasn't very sorry about the illusion I cast either--a little punishment was deserved. But I did feel a badly about the death. It was a pretty poor situation I'd left the prisoner in.....If I'd been able to get away sooner maybe I could have released the illusion once I was across the border and safe; with another binding in place this one spelling memory. I had it half planned. There were other options. Everyone thought the prisoner was mad, that could have worked that to an advantage. I wouldn't have left things as they were. If only the prisoner hadn't been so hasty... I didn't want anybody dead, just sorry. But it was done and I couldn't undo it. I wasn't sure if I could have stopped it with a little forewarning, I don't know...It was his choice, not mine. He always was a stupid boy, the gooseherd.

I regarded the blob of wax and the hair a moment longer, then I snapped the wax blob in half and threw it hard. It flew deep into the woods.
 

And that, dear is pretty much the end of that story. So I was free, by my Art. Mmm? what's a poppet? We'll get into that in more detail later, but basically it's a little person made out of wax. You put something of the person you want to affect in it. It gives you control. You don't need to know how to do that yet. That's not how the tutor tells it? Of course not silly goose; he's not supposed to know the truth. What everyone knows and the truth are often two different things. Yes, I did the same thing when your mama asked me to take you. Some little serving girl took your place. Yes, that's my Gran, shhhh... she nods off so often now. Yes, Nadia was your mama, you're very smart girl for your age. What happened next? That's another story. No,no, tomorrow maybe. Now give your Auntie Lil a hug, and off to bed. Tomorrow, I'll teach you to read palms....



Acknowledgments: I would like to thank the entire Creative Writing class and Dr. Terry Heller for their input; in particular the people who wrote critiques and offered criticisms and/or suggestions.

Return to Contents